After Four Months Ablaze, Canada's 'Dumpcano' Is Finally Out

The mountain of burning trash in Canada's Arctic has finally stopped seeping toxic smoke.

Sep 18 2014, 10:00am

Image: Anubha Momin and Sara Statham/Finding True North

For four months, a fiery inferno known by many as the "Dumpcano" has been consuming tonnes of Arctic human garbage in Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut, one of Canada's northernmost territories. But finally (and thankfully) the garbage blaze has been put out by a team of firefighters.

"For 17 straight days, members of the City of Iqaluit, Hellfire Suppression Services, Rapid Fire Services, Global Forensics Inc., and Tower Arctic worked to extinguish the fire," said a city release on the operation, which thanked the Canadian and Nunavut governments for support.

The city also took the time to reassure residents that it has been monitoring the fumes and air quality of the fire, which omitted smoke for over 100 days from a giant pile of trash that sits right near the town. 

Images are courtesy of Anubha Momin and Sara Statham from the blog Finding True North. The images originally appeared on VICE Canada

"During the time of the fire, monitoring of air and water quality in association with the landfill has been maintained. Any contaminated water used to fight the fire will continue to be carefully managed," the statement said. 

The dump fire started in May, and as VICE Canada reported, really began as a nascent molten-core deep in the belly of a four storey pile of trash. During that time, it has been seeping toxic fumes into the town of less than 7,000. The risk of carcinogens being carried within the smoke of the burning trash mountain and into the town has made residents nervous about its effects on the elderly, children, and pregnant women. 

As you might have guessed, worries about the smoke plume from a burning hillock of trash weren't unfounded: Not even a month ago, Nunavut's Department of Health issued advisories for residents—after originally stating the air quality was not posing a risk to public health—to be mindful of Dumpcano smoke.

"People with heart or lung disease, asthma, the elderly, children, pregnant women and women who may become pregnant should limit their exposure to dump fire smoke," it said in an August 29 release. "This can be done by staying indoors with the doors and windows closed, and with air exchangers set to recirculate indoor air or turned off. Reduce or reschedule outdoor physical activity. People should seek medical attention if they have symptoms such as trouble breathing or tightness in the chest."

From the "Stop the Dump Fires" Facebook page. Image: Shawn Inuksuk

Part of the problem is the remoteness of Nunavut, where essential consumer goods like fruit can cost a fortune since the closest major city is Ottawa, thousands of kilometres away. Because of that, recycling and garbage disposal at landfills built on permafrost leads to mountains of trash whose cores, thanks to decomposition, can get hot enough to spontaneously combust. 

The incident poses questions of large-scale human inhabitation of Arctic lands on the fringes of Canada, forcing the government to seriously think about how it will provide infrastructure to citizens in lands often touted as the future of Canada.

Image: Eric Jacobsen/Tower Arctic Ltd

But the city isn't out of the woods yet. Not only have dump fires been an ongoing problem for years, CBC is reporting the fire crews will be paying close attention to the remnants of Dumpcano for six months, in case it reignites.